Castles Marathon, 27th October 2013

22     3:42:59     Nina Jensen       PB
30     3:51:04     Sumanth Nayak

The inaugural Castles Marathon from Alnwick to Bamburgh, going through the rolling Northumberland countryside, is a welcome addition to the North-East marathon scene. With the Newcastle Town Moor Marathon on the same day, I didn’t really have to think too hard about which one to enter! Apart from two ultras in the past few months, I had done virtually no training for this. I got used to run/walking so much that I wasn’t very confident I’d be able to complete 26.2 miles without stopping. So my aim was just to finish in one piece and enjoy the scenery.

Elevation - Scale is slightly off but you get the idea
Elevation – Scale is slightly off but you get the idea

I took the bus the organisers had put on from Jesmond Metro to Alnwick. Race HQ, basically a marshal at a folding table handing out numbers, and the start were outside the Alnwick Gardens parking lot. It should be called the Castle (singular) Marathon because you don’t even go past Alnwick castle! A small field of about 120 that included runners from all over the country was gathered and I recognized a few local club runners, notably Tynedale Harrier Louise Griffin and Doug Michael of Heaton Harriers, a regular parkrunner. Doug had done parkrun and cross-country the day before!

After some confusion about where the start line was, we were off. Nina told me she was going for an 8 to 8:30 pace which is what I was targeting but after running together for all of 800m, she shot off and I didn’t see her again. She stormed to an amazing PB of 3:42. I felt good but stuck to an average of 8s because any faster and I knew I’d pay for it after 16 miles. I hadn’t run anything longer than that non-stop for quite a while.

The course, while scenic, is not very inspiring. After seeing fields mile after mile, the novelty is lost quite quickly. It’s run entirely on the side of potholed B roads with cars zooming past and I was more concerned about getting run over than the surroundings. I spent so much time looking over my shoulder, that my neck was sorer than my legs! I can at least be thankful that conditions were great. Despite the forecast of blustery showers, it stayed dry and sunny throughout which I hear wasn’t the case in Newcastle, another reason I’m glad I chose this over the Town Moor. The southwesterly wind also gave us a good push.

I was averaging 8:30s from 10 miles but after 16, the lack of training was beginning to show and I dropped to 9s. A gradual ascent from miles 12 to 22 didn’t help matters. A year ago, if I had slowed to anything over 8:30s, I would have given up and starting walking out of frustration. However, all that ultra-plodding recently has helped me keep going even when I’m slowing to a crawl. From 20 miles, I was pretty much going at walking pace and the urge to do that was strong. I told myself if I could make it to at least 23 miles, and then walked, I had a decent shot of finishing under four hours. But when I got to that “parkrun to go” point, for some reason I got a second wind and speeded up slightly. The last three miles were the worst. There were a couple of long, steep climbs but I managed to shuffle up them and gain some speed on the downhills.

After the last killer hill at mile 25, I had a jaw dropping view of Budle Bay and Bamurgh Beach. This alone was enough to make up for the drudgery of the previous 25 miles. I managed to sprint down the hill past the decent sized cheering crowds onto the grass finish just below sun bathed Bamburgh Castle in 3:51. I can’t think of a better setting for a race finish. You can argue I could have done the half marathon and still enjoyed the view at the finish but I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much without the agony!

I had heard some bad things about the organisers, Run Northumberland, but I have to say, the marshaling and drinks stations were very well done. There was no chance of getting lost on the course. If you don’t mind running alongside traffic on narrow roads and some nasty hills, I would definitely recommend this race.

Finish line
Finish line
Doug and Me
Doug and Me
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